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UK clamps down on Xinjiang forced labor, accusing China of ‘torture’ and ‘barbarism’

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Dominic Raab, First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs walks in Downing Street on September 3, 2019 in London, England.

Leon Neal | Getty Images News | Getty Images

LONDON — The U.K. has introduced new measures to root out the presence of alleged forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region in British supply chains.

China is accused of extrajudicially detaining over 1 million Uighur Muslims and other minorities in political re-education camps in the northwestern autonomous region, along with invasive surveillance, restrictions on Uighur culture and the use of forced labor.

China staunchly denies the allegations, claiming that the centers are aimed at combating extremism and encouraging the development of vocational skills.

Companies with annual turnover of more than £36 million ($49.2 million) that fail to demonstrate adequate due diligence in ensuring their supply chains are free from forced labor under the Modern Slavery Act, will now be subject to fines, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

“We must make sure that U.K. businesses are not part of the supply chains that lead to the gates of the internment camps in Xinjiang, and to make sure that the products of human rights violations that take place in those camps do not end up on the shelves of supermarkets that we shop in here at home, week in, week out,” Raab said.

The government will also initiate an urgent review into export controls to prevent exports which could aid in human rights abuses, issue new guidance to businesses operating in the region, and extend the Modern Slavery Act to the public sector, barring any company shown to have forced labor ties from public procurement contracts.

‘Truly horrific’

Raab claimed the evidence is now “far reaching” and “paints a truly harrowing picture,” accusing China of operating “internment camps, arbitrary detention, political re-education, forced labor, torture and forced sterilization, all on an industrial scale.”

“It is truly horrific — barbarism we had hoped was lost to another era being practiced today as we speak in one of the leading members of the international community,” he added.

Raab cited first-hand accounts from diplomats and escaped victims, satellite imagery showing factories within internment camps and the destruction of mosques, and third party reports from the UN Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in London did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Raab highlighted that China’s refusal to allow access to a UN human rights commissioner or other credible outside authority was not reconcilable with these contentions.

“China cannot simply refuse all access to those trusted third-party bodies who could verify the facts, and at the same time maintain a position of credible denial,” he added.

A protester outside the White House urges the United States to take action to stop the oppression of the Uyghur and other Turkic peoples, on August 14, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Raab’s measures stopped short of sanctioning individual Chinese officials over their involvement in the alleged atrocities, and Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, claimed her counterpart had not gone far enough, likening Raab’s actions to “tinkering around the edges.”

The presence of Uighur forced labor in international supply chains has been the target of a number of major governments in recent years. In late 2020, several U.S. companies came under fire for allegedly lobbying to weaken a bipartisan bill banning imports from Xinjiang.

“Some US. politicians have concocted disinformation of so-called ‘forced labor’ in order to restrict and oppress relevant parties and enterprises in China as well as contain China’s development,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told CNBC in December.

“All ethnic groups in Xinjiang choose their occupations according to their own will and sign ‘labor contracts’ of their own volition in accordance with law on the basis of equality.”

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Biden heads into inauguration with a stock market tailwind

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Biden heads into inauguration with a stock market tailwind

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Biden to deploy FEMA, National Guard to set up Covid vaccine clinics across the U.S.

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Spc. Katherine Deskins (L) of the Nevada Army National Guard administers a Moderna COVID-19 vaccination to Clark County Fire Department Capt. Jasmine Ghazinour on the first day of Clark County’s pilot vaccination program at Cashman Center on January 14, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Ethan Miller | Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden plans to use FEMA and the National Guard to build coronavirus vaccine clinics across the United States, according to new details of his Covid-19 vaccination plan released by his transition team on Friday.

The Biden administration will also “quickly jumpstart” efforts to make the vaccines available at local pharmacies across the U.S., which should ensure that Americans have access to doses at facilities only miles from their home, according to the plan. 

“Here’s the deal: The more people we vaccinate, the faster we do it, the sooner we can save lives and put this pandemic behind us and get back to our lives and loved ones,” Biden said at a speech in Wilmington, Delaware, Thursday night. “We won’t get out of it overnight and we can’t do it as a separated nation.”

Drug store chains and pharmacies were supposed to take on a larger role in distributing the vaccine once the government expanded access to more people. But the slower-than-expected rollout has frustrated pharmacy chains. The National Association of Chain Drug Stores called on the federal government earlier this week to allow states to send more doses directly to pharmacies as they do with hospitals and health departments. 

The group estimated that the country’s retail pharmacies could administer at least 100 million doses of vaccines each month, which would exceed the incoming administration’s promise of 100 million shots in 100 days.

The Biden administration has said current vaccination efforts are not sufficient to quickly and equitably vaccinate the vast majority of the U.S. population, adding, “We must ensure that those on the ground have what they need to get vaccinations into people’s arms.”

The pace of vaccinations in the U.S. is going much slower than officials had hoped. As of Friday at 6 a.m. ET, more than 31.1 million doses of vaccine had been distributed across the U.S., but just over 12.2 million shots have been administered, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the plan, Biden will also invoke the Defense Production Act to “maximize the manufacture of vaccine and vaccine supplies for the country.”

The incoming president’s advisors had previously hinted that he would invoke the wartime production law, which allows the president to compel companies to prioritize manufacturing for national security, to bolster vaccine production.  

The plan says the act will increase the supply of necessary equipment that could otherwise cause bottlenecks in the vaccine’s rollout if they were in shortage, including glass vials, syringes, stoppers and needles. It will also increase the capacity to package the vaccines into vials.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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